ASTD International Conference & Exposition 2004

This is the first of several reports on the 2004 ASTD Conference.

"How was the ASTD Conference?" There are thousands upon thousands of answers to that question, for the event is a nine-ring circus, and it's highly unlikely any two people take part in the same mix of activities.

This year I attended only half a dozen formal sessions but I found myself in constant conversation with friends, vendors, attendees, reporters, and my fellow speakers for five days solid.

The Conference took place at the new Washington Conference Center. It's a mammoth space, chock full of eye-catching art. Unfortunately, the layout is confusing and the signage terrible; I got lost four times. It was 90 degrees Fahrenheit outside; mercifully, the entrance to the Metro is right next to the building.


Unbeknownst to those who hung out in the non-pastoral, concrete neighborhoods of the District of Columbia, the Virginia and Maryland suburbs have been invaded by cicadas (AKA 17-year locusts). In the mornings, the air was filled with an ever-present whir, a dead ringer for the sound of the extraterrestials in The Day the Earth Stood Still.

These scary-looking little bugs are completely harmless. They don't sting or bite. They also have no fear or defense mechanisms because they don't live long enough to need them.

Note the orange eyes. Princeton celebrates cicadas because they are (usually) the school colors, orange and black. One in a hundred has blue eyes.

Here's the lifecycle of the cicada:

  1. Live deep (2' or more) underground for 17 years.
  2. As randy teenagers, bore up to the surface.
  3. Have sex in the tree tops.
  4. Lay eggs (which hatch, drop to the ground, and burrow back into the ground to suck on tree roots).
  5. Die.

In my cousin Becky's neighborhood, you can no longer see the sidewalks for all the cicada bodies.

I know this is a great metaphor for something, but I haven't figured out what.


Regime Change

ASTD appears to be turning the corner after a bumpy ride for the last several years. The staff has rallied behind new president Tony Bingham and exhibits more spirit than I've seen in years. Membership is growing. ASTD reported a profit last year after two years of losses, digging itself out of a hole created by the recression, SARS, and lack of direction. Selling its headquarters building in Alexandria brought ASTD's cash position to a ten-year high.

At the Annual Membership Meeting, Tony said ASTD had put webinars on hold. People flocked to free webinars, but when there was a price tag associated with them, nobody came. I suggested that quality may be a factor in this. Elearing Guild has a successful webinar series that people pay for. However, they plan their events rather than throw things over the wall, expecting a consultant to put together a quality program for free.


The Expo Hall was filled with vendors. More importantly, there foot traffic was heavy, and many vendors were happy with the quality of the contacts they were making.


In the eLearning space, most of the big players showed up. The smaller eLearning specialities like LCMS vendors, specialized content, or small LMS vendors were MIA.

Accenture wins this year's award for Dorkiest Booth. "Don't you guys have deep pockets?" I asked. A fellow replied that their booth was in New Orleans. "What are you selling?" He told me outsourcing was the hot item. Accenture will do a little piece, perhaps designing a course, or take on the entire training function. I asked how many organizations had signed up for the full soup-to-nuts option. He told me Avaya. "And?" I asked. He said the market was young. Avaya is it. I'd gathered from this article in Learning Circuits that a lot more was going on. Perhaps I was misinformed.


DDI had the most talked-about booth. When you walked by, this large-screen cartoon character would engage you in conversation. "Like that red shirt!" or "Sounds like you're from Australia." He could pass the Turing Test (not being able to tell a computer from a human -- because he was animated by a man behind the curtain.

Before the big conferences, I advise vendors on how to present themselves, and one thing that struck me as particularly clever was the ability of the cartoon figure to qualify prospects. Imagine if this had been carried through to desktops in the booth, an apparently machine intelligence giving prospects a personalized sales pitch.

This sort of thing once made me laugh out loud. Now I'm more tolerant. If the manager who authorizes your budget is one of the millions who loved the book, you'd be a fool to pass this up.

Yes, those are antlers. His company gets the point across with zany theater. Lettuce entertain you.

The government of Taiwan brought out half a dozen vendors. Having produced many of the chips inside the computer you're reading this from, they'd like to put some software in there, too.

(Hello, Andy and Carrie!)

Ensemble Collaboration launched on Monday. From the Press Release:

WASHINGTON, DC, May 25 /CNW/ - Ensemble Collaboration announced the official launch of the world's first Collaboration Management Framework at the Canadian Embassy in Washington, D.C. last night at a private reception attended by over 350 learning experts. The company is launching the product in conjunction with its attendance at the American Society for Training and Development's International Conference and Exposition.

Ensemble introduced C-Change(TM), a revolutionary process that enables effective collaboration to occur across all courses, whether custom or generic. To do so Ensemble has created a hosted technology framework that encapsulates existing 3rd party collaboration technologies into 'collaboration learning objects' that can then be assembled and centrally managed, similar to how online courses are built from content learning objects.

(Disclosure: I am a director of Ensemble.)

From ASTD reports:

  1. 70% of the Fortune 1000 cite lack of training as the biggest barrier to sustaining growth. (PwC)
  2. Half of the Federal workforce of nearly 3 million will be eligible for retirement in 2005.
Norm Kamikow, president and editor-in-chief of Chief Learning Officer magazine.

CLO is thriving. Every other month it contains a spectacular column. (Disclosure: I write CLO's column on Effectiveness every other month.) The price is right; CLO is free.

More to come.

Posted by Jay Cross at May 31, 2004 07:13 PM | TrackBack

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